Best of the decade (that I lived)


Ronen Bergman: Rise and Kill First

I thought a 750-page book about Israel’s covert assas­si­na­tion programs would exceed my appetite for the subject. Wrong. In one sense, the book is a history of Israel, as told through its targeted-killing programs. But it’s also a story of the costs and conse­quences of warfare conducted primarily via covert methods (including torture and drone strikes). Bergman depicts an Israeli govern­ment that, although largely successful in defending the nation, is increas­ingly corroded by its accu­mu­lated moral lapses.

James K. Galbraith: The End of Normal

A real feat of nonfic­tion writing—econ­o­mist Galbraith somehow manages to turn his dire warn­ings about the fate of the world economy into a propul­sive read, with a tone that’s both erudite and acces­sible. My favorite Galbraith thesis is that there is no “free market”: a market is a thing constructed by the govern­ment, and the insis­tence other­wise by both polit­ical parties is a block to progress.


New York

Publishing is tough all over. Over the course of the decade, New York went from weekly to biweekly, and this year was sold to Vox Media. But issue by issue, the writing and photog­raphy and design remain consis­tently great. Espe­cially the polit­ical reporting. For instance, this recent feature on Joe Biden: “he took off, running through the parade like a dingo with some­body’s newborn.”


Queens of the Stone Age: Like Clockwork and Villains

QOTSA is one of my favorite bands even though I don’t like all their albums. I take this as a good sign: they don’t pander to expec­ta­tions. I had Like Clock­work on repeat while making Prac­tical Typog­raphy. These are straight-up rock albums that are also unex­pect­edly rich with emotion, light and dark.

The Divine Comedy: Bang Goes the Knighthood

This one, I had on repeat while writing the first edition of Typog­raphy for Lawyers. The Divine Comedy is a cross between the melodic songcraft of XTC and the mordant wit of Randy Newman. If you like “The Complete Banker”—the best song written about the 2008 reces­sion—you might like the rest. If not, forget it.


Mad Max: Fury Road

There is a cate­gory of movies I dislike for being insuf­fi­ciently cine­matic: meaning, I walk out feeling they could’ve worked equally well as a play, or book, or radio show. MM:FR is the oppo­site. It is a great action movie. It might be the greatest action movie. But it’s also a totally exuberant work of film­making: motion, sound, color, editing, effects, produc­tion design, acting, the whole deal. By the end, I felt like the true hero was director George Miller, for simply causing it to exist.


A chilling movie about Amer­ican foreign policy that hits all the marks an action thriller is supposed to, while also never going where you expect. For instance, where most films would give us a car chase, Sicario’s best action scene is in a traffic jam. The screen­play, acting, and cine­matog­raphy are fantastic. If Mad Max is a work of exuber­ance, Sicario is a work of preci­sion and control.


Hotline Miami

Osten­sibly, it’s a fast-paced, retro-arcade-style shooter / puzzle game. But more broadly, it’s a medi­ta­tion on what makes video games fun at all. Games get their effect not so much from the pixels on the screen, but from what we as players bring to the action.* As games get ever bigger budgets, the player’s role has often been reduced to being merely a watcher of expen­sive scenery. But in Hotline Miami, you will feel fear, elation, frus­tra­tion, anger, and relief, repeat­edly. And then it will be over, and you will say “how’d they do that?”

* Also true of fonts

Far Cry 4

I didn’t expect to like this game. I didn’t even want to like this game. It seemed like the kind of vapid big-budget shooter that Hotline Miami makes fun of. And if you want to play it that way, you can. But one comes to realize it’s much more of a hunting and survival game than a shooting game, in the sense that you are stalking prey (human and animal) and they, in turn, are stalking you. The mash-up of the human and animal worlds is very well done. (And makes me wish for a game where you can actu­ally play as an animal—does it exist?)


High-resolution screens

From about 1982 to 2011, computer screens were stuck in the reso­lu­tion range of 72–80 pixels per inch. The arrival of antialiased text in the 1990s was an improve­ment, because it made better use of those pixels. But the idea of computer screens with signif­i­cantly higher reso­lu­tions was consid­ered wishful thinking. For typog­ra­phers, this was an espe­cially painful reality to accept, because fonts suffered the most. Then in 2011, Apple intro­duced an iPhone that displayed 326 pixels per inch. Suddenly, we dared to dream again. Over the next five years—so fast!—high-res screens arrived on tablets and laptops and desktop moni­tors. There are many, many things I dislike about today’s soft­ware. But man, I will tolerate all of it to keep these beau­tiful high-reso­lu­tion screens. (After about five years using a pair of Dell P2415Q moni­tors, I have now switched to a pair of LG Ultra­fines.)

Sequential Prophet 6

My first synthe­sizer (in 1984) was the (still well-regarded) Juno 106. But what every teenage synthe­sist wanted was a Prophet 5, because that’s what rich rock stars on MTV had. By the time I had enough adult money to contem­plate buying a vintage Prophet 5, I discov­ered that Dave Smith, inventor of the Prophet 5, had released the new Prophet 6. If the worst possible outcome of today’s tech­nology trends is an Amazoogle Home Surveil­lance Device, then the Prophet 6 is the best: a completely analog synthe­sizer made with the manu­fac­turing preci­sion that wasn’t avail­able in the ’70s or ’80s, and the modern conve­niences we synthe­sists have come to appre­ciate (e.g., onboard effects & arpeg­giator). Best of all, it’s a blast to play and sounds wonderful.


I got the Juiced Cross­Current X, but the idea is becoming wide­spread: put a motor on a bicycle so that when you pedal, the motor adds power propor­tionate to your effort. If you like biking, it’s ridicu­lously fun. If you don’t like biking, maybe this will over­come your objec­tions. In Los Angeles, e-bikes can go up to 28mph, and use on-street bike lanes. So during rush hour, I am the fastest vehicle in Holly­wood. I got the Juiced bike because it also has a thumb throttle that works without pedaling, for moments—say, busy stop­lights or steep hills—where you just want to lay on some power. Yes, I do.

Happy new decade!

[I have not been compen­sated to use or recom­mend any of the stuff mentioned above.]